James Royal-Lawson


Internet usage and young Swedes in Sweden

A new report Unga svenskar och Internet (Swedish) from World Internet Institute, .SE och Medierådet shows that in Sweden social economic background is associated with large differences in how early children learn to use the Internet. It also shows how wide-spread blogging, online communities, and instant messaging is amongst young Swedes.

Here follows a taste of some of the 50-page Swedish report’s findings.

Children learn earlier than ever

The age that Swedish children begin using the Internet has fallen from thirteen in the year 2000 to just four in 2009. This age, according to the report, is derived from when 50% of the age group have familiarised themselves with the Internet. So in 2009 we can say that every other Swedish four year-old has used the Internet. That usage is often watching short video and film clips as well as playing simple games.

Graph taken from the report

Pre-school children who have well-educated parents are more likely to be both familiar with the internet as well as regular users of the Internet. This is significantly less for pre-school children of less well educated parents. In other words the report claims a direct correlation between education level of the parents and internet usage of pre-school kids (but not for older children).

4 in 10 young women have blogged

Blogging is very common in Sweden, more so amongst girls than boys (Boys, especially teenage ones, spend more time playing games). Already by 12-13 years old 20% of Swedish girls have a blog and the majority of those blog at least weekly. The level of blogging increases until we get to the 20 year-olds where more than 50% of those that blog do so on a daily basis. In total 40% of young women have blogged or blog and 69% read other’s blogs.

Internet in Schools but not well used

One of the many interesting facts highlighted in the report is that although the Internet is available to almost all school children, only the 18-19 age group contains a majority who use it daily at school (excluding during breaks). For the 12-17 age group it is a weekly rather than daily occurrence. Use of the Internet has yet to make a significant appearance in school assignments. 75% of School children themselves say that the Internet is not important for their school-work, whereas a majority claim that it is important or very important in their leisure-time.

A selection of facts…

  • Half of 16-25 year-olds visit an online community daily
  • Amongst 12-15 year-old girls Bilddagboken is the most popular social network
  • Instant messaging is used by almost all Swedish teenagers
  • Those who play games play on average 5.5 hour a week
  • 16 year-old boys who play online games play for 11 hours a week
  • 72% of 16-25 year-olds are members of social networks
  • 82% of all Swedish bloggers are under 35 years old, 65% are under 25.

Page load times and big fat Swedish newspapers

Many major newspapers have notoriously very bulky websites. In fact, they are generally some of the most overweight and unhealthy sites on the internet.

Load time matters

Why is this a bad thing? Well, mainly slower loading times. People have very little patience for things to happen online. When combined with a 3G mobile broadband internet connection loading times take a further hit. If testing the patience of your visitors wasn’t enough, Google has even started taking page load times into account in their search results. You could even argue that larger pages have a larger carbon footprint due to the due to increased CPU usage!

The test

Let’s take a closer look at the major Swedish newspapers. Over a period of two weeks I tested Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Expressen, Aftonbladet, Sydsvenskan and Göteborgs Posten.

Using the Firebug add-on to Firefox I recorded how long it took for the start page of each newspaper to load. Each time I used the same computer, in the same place, connected to the internet via the same 3G mobile internet provider. Before loading the page I emptied the cache of Firefox to ensure that all elements of the page were required to be downloaded.

The results

The websites of all of the Swedish newspapers tested generally weighed more than 2MB and took between 20-35 seconds to load (uncached) over a 3G wireless network. Alexia classes all the newspapers tested as “very slow” and groups them in the slowest 10% of websites on the internet

Graph average page load time swedish newspapers april 2010

The slowest of the websites was Aftonbladet. On some occasions it was very slow (and has the honour of being the only site to ever take more than 40 seconds to fully load) and was also the website that most often caused the fan on my laptop to speed up considerably as it battled to cool the processor down due to the amount of flash video being displayed simultaneously and continuously.

Graph average page sizes swedish newspapers april 2010

An interesting observation was that when reloading pages the majority of the content was, of course, cached (with the exception of Aftonbladet which managed to serve up almost 50% new content) but the load time remained almost the same. This was largely down to the sheer volume of requests made to build up the page. In the case of Aftonbladet, it’s start page is normally comprised of over 300 requests.

During the first week of testing, Sydsvenskan was by far the heaviest of the websites. In the above graphs I have only included Sydsvenskan’s figures from the first week of testing due to the significantly different results during the second week.

New Sydsvenskan

During the second week of testing Sydsvenskan released a new version of their website. Initially I thought this would be a bad thing for my testing, but it quickly became apparent that page size and loading time had been a specific consideration when building their new site. So instead of disrupting my testing, it give me an opportunity to see what difference optimising a size for speed could make.

The results were impressive. Sydsvenskan is now the lightest of the Swedish newspapers by a considerable margin. It weighs in at just 43% of the size of Aftonbladet (the fattest and slowest of those tested) and loads twice as fast.

Graph page load time sydsvenskan april 2010

Above the fold content

Also during the second week I also recorded the time it takes for content above the fold to appear, as in reality we don’t wait until every single part of the page has loaded before we start scanning the page and reading content. During this test, I stopped the timer as soon as the leading story’s headline was visible (even though at times adverts and some other content were already visible). This test showed that the lighter newspapers displayed above the fold content three times as fast as the heavier ones. Dagens Nyheter was an exception here and manage to join the thin boys despite it’s unhealthy BMI.

Graph page load time above fold swedish newspapers april 2010

30 seconds? Goodbye!

Generally people appear to have more patience for newspaper sites than e-commerce sites. If clicking on “confirm purchase” on your site took 30 seconds you’d be losing a lot of sales, but on a newspaper people evidently wait for the content to load (or more likely start reading text content above the fold long before everything else on the page has loaded).

Flash based adverts

A large part of the bloat on Swedish newspapers’ web sites is advertising and in particular flash-based advertising, The worst offenders are “video” adverts that play automatically when the page loads.

Lighter is better

With lighter, faster, more responsive pages, the newspapers would reduce bandwidth costs, increase the number of page views, and ultimately give their readers an overall better experience. But given the seemingly never ending focus newspapers’ place on making advertisers happy rather than their readers I doubt the (global) trend for heavy bloated online news sites is going to end soon.

Perhaps Sydsvenskan can be the catalyst for change? Well, perhaps it can be here in Sweden.

Free Eye tracking workshops in Stockholm

Together with Weekend i’ll be holding a number of eye tracking workshops in Stockholm, Sweden (both in Kista and on Södermalm) between the 13th of April and the 7th of May 2010.

The half-day workshops are aimed at web/intranet managers and will be held in Swedish (or English if requested). You will, along with a few other companies or organisations, get to experience how eye tracking analysis works in practice, including testing your own site. As a spring-gift to everyone, the workshops are being held without charge.

Book your place!

Book your place now via Weekend’s booking form.

More specific details about the workshops, including exact times and dates, as well as an overview of Weekend’s Eye tracking services can also be found on the booking page.

Update 2011-03-18

It’s almost a year since we ran this well-received series of eye tracking workshops. Although there aren’t any specific workshops planned for time being, it’s always possible to arrange one. Just fill in the form on our Eye tracking usability testing page.

Swedish blogging statistics

In November 2009, the World Internet Institute released their yearly report (in Swedish) about Swedish internet use. It covers a wide spectrum of internet use, from file-sharing through to communities, and of course – blogs.

Swedish Blogging

In the section entitled “Communication with blogs and communities” (Kommunikation med bloggar och communities) the report says that in 2009, 5% of the Swedish population (over the age of 16) are active bloggers (and just as many have at some point write a blog but aren’t currently active). Additionally, blogging is not an Internet activity that is evenly spread across the population. The most active age group is 16-25 year olds, and even more active are females within that age group.

Reading of blogs

37% of the population read blogs. 60% within the 16-25 age group. So even though a relatively small percentage are actively producing blog content, a much broader audience read (and respond) to that content. The most active group, women between 16-25, contains 39% who write or have written a blog, and 69% who read blogs. As a communication channel to that age group, blogs have an undeniable reach.

Graph showing how often different age groups read blogs

What do Swedes blog about?

The vast majority of blogs are about people’s daily lives – 64%. 26% of Swedish blogs have a specific theme, such as a hobby, photography, music, etc. A smaller percentage of blogs, 6%, are work related. Political blogs, or more specifically blogs where people express their opinions about current affairs or recent topics, similarly account for 6% of blogs.

Doubled in two years

Compared with the 2007 WII report, the percentage of the population blogging has doubled (from 3% to 6%). Whilst this percentage is still only small, blogs in Sweden hold an increasingly important position as a communication medium.

The poor state of Sweden’s intranets

Swedish intranets are seriously under performing, lacking resources and lacking routines – quite simply they are not delivering to the maximum of their capabilities

In October 2009 Web Service Award released a report, “Hur mår Sveriges intranät” (“How is Sweden’s intranet”) in which they surveyed 290 intranet managers about the quality of their intranets and their working environment.

One in Two intranets are useless

Some of the results are really quite alarming. Only 47% thought that their intranet helped employees with their work. Every other intranet manager therefore considers their intranet to be of no use! Shocking!

Given that the report goes on to say that 42% have no routines for checking that information published is correct, that 62% have no routines for checking the quality of text which is published, and that 60% think their intranet structure is poor – it’s hardly surprising so many think their intranet isn’t helping at all.

Most intranets are used as news distribution channels (81%) and for finding employee contact information (73%), whereas very few as used for activities such as E-learning (7%) and discussions (8%).

Back to basics – Intranet strategy

The survey claims that 63% of intranet managers are working actively to encourage employees to make use of the intranet. Judging by the reports findings, the best they can do is go back to basics – analyse what employees actual do and see how those behavioural patterns can be assisted by the intranet.

An intranet is no different to any web site in many ways – you need a strategy, and you need to understand your target audiences and help them achieve their goals and in turn yours. Thankfully 43% said they were planning to “rebuild” their intranets. Hopefully that will mean more than a new design and moving some pages about.

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